International Society of Primerus Law Firms

Word to the Wise – Primerus YLS Newsletter February 2016

By: Laura Daly, Esq.
Leman Solicitors
Dublin, Ireland

Taking my lead from Emily Campbell’s and Linda Hazeldon’s article in our last edition, I am continuing on the YLS quest for inspiration and advice for young lawyers on how to succeed and thrive.

As a new member to the Primerus network in Ireland, I want to highlight the international reach of the Primerus network and the wealth of experience and wisdom it has to offer. I recently interviewed three Primerus members from diverse firms – Dr. Zsolt Füsthy, Partner at Füsthy & Mányai Law Office, Budapest, Hungary; John Mullins, Partner at Mullins Lawyers, Brisbane, Australia and Dr. John Refalo, Partner at Refalo & Zammit Pace Advocates, Valetta, Malta.

The common theme emerging from these interviews is that young lawyers should seek to build and manage relationships from the very outset of their careers. Use your networks and seize every opportunity that comes your way! As the Irish saying goes – “Ní fhanann trá le fear mall” – the tide does not wait for the slow man.

How did you decide to become a lawyer? Has the practice of law met your expectations?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: There are several lawyers in the family. My great grandfather, grandfather and uncle were lawyers. They told me a lot of stories about being a lawyer and I thought that sort of problem solving approach in a job would suit me. I went on to study law in university. Since then I have developed a practice focusing in broad terms on business law and financial law. My practice has broadened throughout my career into international law and competition law.

John Mullins: My father was a lawyer. His father was an Irish immigrant to North Queensland and encouraged him to become a lawyer. My father started the firm that I work in today. In terms of my expectations, there were no real surprises. It has been what I expected it to be. As a young lawyer perhaps I was more interested in criminal work – I thought that’s what lawyers do. As I developed my practice I diversified and I work as a commercial lawyer now. The perception has met my reality. I will be practicing as a commercial lawyer for 35 years next year. It is good to develop and change your practice areas and develop your specialty.

Dr. John Refalo: There have always been lawyers in the family and so it felt like a natural choice for me. But it was more than that, the lawyers in the family, for example my father and uncle, brought me to the office as child and so I had a great degree of exposure to the career.

In terms of whether it has met my expectations or not-the perception you have is different to what you experience. I suppose I’m not sure what my expectations were. I am now a lawyer for 18 years. There are still things that I do not like and things I like about the job. I did not stay in the same area of law. I started my career working in litigation predominantly. Then as clients’ expectations have changed, the type of work has also changed. Even litigation has changed. It is now influenced by different cultures and practices. I now work in with international clients on large commercial disputes.

What are some of the important things an associate should know about managing and living up to partner expectations?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: They should maintain regular contact with the Partner, trying to understand the philosophy of the firm and the differences in each department. While all of the departments should have the same general philosophy, an associate should adjust themselves according to each department’s distinctions.

John Mullins: The practice of law is all about integrity. You must be accountable for your actions. If someone asks have you done that, I would rather you say that you haven’t started it than to talk around the issue. It all stems from honesty. Do not run off and do what you think should be done on a file. Communication is the key.

Dr. John Refalo: In my view, the important thing is to take ownership of tasks. In my firm we have 16 lawyers. From an early stage you must learn to multi-task and deal with clients’ wider issues.  In smaller firms you are thrown in at the deep end and we will see if you can swim! From a Partner’s perspective we like to see that when we hand over a task, the associate takes ownership of that task. We like to see some initiative being taken and that the task is being completed efficiently and well.

It is not about how long your billable hours are – it is about giving solutions. The Partners need to know that they can trust the associate to do the job and that they will find their way around obstacles. A Partner does not want to be called every few minutes with minor issues. We expect the associate to return with solutions and not just problems. Show that you can be imaginative and that what was initially the client’s problem is your problem now.

What makes an associate a star?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: Three great traits that I want to see in associates are firstly to be creative, secondly to show initiative and finally to be honest. If they show those characteristics then they are on their way. They should not just copy and paste but try to find out new ideas and solutions, understand the problem and be able to focus on solution driven thinking.

John Mullins: A star associate shows the following traits: accountability, reliability, consistency, and must be caring. It is the completely unremarkable traits that make a star when they come together.

Dr. John Refalo: A star associate is difficult to define. It is like asking why a particular movie actor is a “star”. A star associate’s qualities can be very different depending on whether they are litigators or negotiators for example. If it looks like a duck it’s a duck!

What are some of the things associates should avoid doing?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: Associates should always avoid doing anything inaccurately. Also missing deadlines is just not acceptable.

John Mullins: I suppose they should avoid the traits opposite to the traits I listed before. In addition to those, if you have a good idea, bring it to a Partner, do not just run off and do it yourself. A bit of humility goes a long way. As soon as we think we know everything we have a problem.

Dr. John Refalo: I have come across all sorts of things in my practice. Sometimes these are human nature, others not so. Some people are insecure and it is up to the firm to create the right environment in which they can thrive. For example, it is not fair for a Partner to throw in an associate to a client who could be aggressive or not so understanding towards them. The worst thing that I tell associates to avoid is the “civil service” mentality. You are there to make a difference and not just to clock in and out.

Describe your philosophy on client care.  What are some of the things an associate can do to help maximise the relationship with a client?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: Our philosophy is that we are fully committed to our clients. An associate should know what a client wants and that each client is the most important. It is also very important for an associate to monitor their clients’ transactions and to follow up with them. Be aware of how the transaction is developing and always check whether the client is happy with the outcome of the deal. A deal is never over when it comes to client care.

John Mullins: It is really amazingly simple. There is nothing very remarkable in what I have to say on this point. What clients want us to do is to help them. A lot of what I see is legal advice – pages of lawyers justifying their fee. I don’t want my accountant to give me accounting advice; I want him to help me.  The main focus for maximizing client relationships is to build client loyalty. It is the only way to build a practice. In my firm we talk about keeping clients for multi-generations, for decades. They call to us because they trust us.

Dr. John Refalo:  I could write a whole book on this topic but it is about building relationships at the end of the day. You need to know how to listen and understand the client and their issues. At the beginning of any client engagement you need to try to find out what the client wants to get out of the process. The first item on a client care agenda is to understand what is really important to your client. It is a business relationship, one in which you must add value beyond what the client wants. You need to be efficient in your response, understand their needs and deliver according to those needs. Sometimes a case is lost and there is not much you can do. In those circumstances you need to educate the client on the process, helping the client to know what to expect at each stage. When you can get to that level of understanding, the relationship grows. Never over promise what you cannot deliver. It becomes repetitive and damages relationships. Go to your clients’ events. It might be very important to your client that you attend. There is a lot of competition out there and you are ultimately competing with lawyers who are just as good if not better, competing for the same mark, so make a good impression.

How have you developed business?  What do you like or expect to see from an associate in terms of business development?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: It is very important that they should follow the development of the law. They should train each day and each year within their chosen field of experience. It is also important for associates to update clients with relevant legal developments. The emphasis here should be on relevant updates. Do not bother the client with neutral information.

John Mullins: People have to get out of their comfort zone. If everyone you know and all the partners you know are lawyers, then your network will not grow. Do not join something you’re not interested in, join something you want to be involved in. This will help you develop real relationships by doing things you have in common. For example, for me it’s sports, but my brother-he loves amateur theater.

Dr. John Refalo: Associates need to take things step by step. I don’t expect associates to bring in much work at a junior level. I think that places too much pressure on the associates. You need to see that an associate can develop and manage the clients you assign to them. Ultimately, whether a client gets a proper service from the associates and whether the associates are delivering or not will have an effect on the firm’s relationship with the client.  I like to see the associate growing up within the firm structure. I want to be able to see that they could be a future partner, but first I need to see that they are a competent lawyer.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 26 year old self?

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy: I will roughly translate an old Roman proverb which is to live honestly-don’t harm anybody and give to everybody that which they deserve. It is very broad. It covers not only the life of a lawyer but also your personal life too. It goes far beyond your legal commitments and it is the way you should live your life.

John Mullins: My son is my 26 year old self! He has recently joined the profession as a graduate in a large international firm. I would say that you need to realise that relationships start now. For young lawyers accountability and consistency are important. Think about how you will develop relationships with clients. In the first three years it is about consistency. Start out addressing relationships at the outset – develop them at day one.

Dr. John Refalo: Take all the opportunities that come along.

Füsthy & Mányai Law Office was established in 1999 as a de-merger of several law offices. The firm deals with business law in broad terms, covering all practice areas of the law system that a company may face in the course of its day-to-day operations.

Dr. Zsolt Füsthy is a specialist of EC and Environmental Law. Other practice areas include environmental law, European Union law, mergers and acquisitions, corporate law, international banking law and securities matters, labor and employment, antitrust/competition law, contract law, real estate. Dr Füsthy is a member of the Budapest Bar, International Bar Association and the British-Hungarian Law Association.

Mullins Lawyers is a contemporary commercial law firm founded in 1980. It is a full service firm with an offering in the areas of banking and finance, commercial dispute resolution, corporate and business advisory, property, M&As, PI claims, and private client.

John Mullins is a specialist in the area of Sports law. John was the firm’s Managing Partner from 1982 to July 2015. In that role he saw over the firm growing from a sole practitioner to seventeen partners today. John advises clients on a broad spectrum of sports law issues including venues, events, constitutions, sponsorships, policies, risk management, contracting, disciplinary action and player contracting.

Refalo & Zammit Pace Advocates is a market leader in Malta where it is renowned for its Corporate law, Dispute Resolution, Public Law and Human Rights practices.

Dr. John Refalo leads the commercial dispute resolution practice of the Firm. He specializes in insurance, maritime, construction, insolvency, shareholder and joint venture disputes. John has a varied international litigation and arbitration practice having successfully advised local and international clients in connection with a variety of disputes brought in a number of foreign jurisdictions.

Leman Solicitors is a very recent addition to the Primerus network.  It is a full service commercial law firm founded in 2008 and has been steadily expanding its expertise and specialist fields since then. It covers all aspects of business, commercial property, dispute resolution and employment law, while providing a boutique offering in digital business, financial services, healthcare and sports law.

Laura Daly is a solicitor on Leman Solicitors’ Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team. Laura specialises in advising corporate clients and financial institutions on regulatory enforcement and corporate crime as well as acting in contractual and financial services disputes involving banking, insurance and funds.

For more information about Leman Solicitors, please visit the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.


The general information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.

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